Today the lawyers of this country at a special general meeting will convene at the auditorium of the Government Plaza to decide whether the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) should file a Judicial Review writ to challenge the decision of the Prime Minister not to commence impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice.
I call upon all the civic-minded lawyers to attend this very important meeting in order to make objective, dispassionate, sensible and sagacious inputs in this crucial/important constitutional matter so that justice can prevail for all.
It is now well known to all of us that the country is spilt along racial and socio-economical lines on whether the Chief Justice should be impeached. The lawyers to a great extent form the bulwark of the intelligentsia in our beloved country and should not “tribalise/racialise” the issue of a Section 137 tribunal.
I remind my learned friends that in taking our respective oath as lawyers we all swear that we will truly and honestly conduct ourselves in the practice of law to the best of our knowledge and ability and the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Laws of Trinidad and Tobago state that if serious allegations of misconduct are made against the Chief Justice, and there is prima facie evidence to support the allegations, the Prime Minister must trigger a Section 137 tribunal to ascertain whether the allegations are true or not, and if true whether it warrants his removal from office.
In debating whether the Prime Minister should trigger the Section 137 tribunal, all lawyers are called upon to bury their subconscious prejudices, be it tribal, political or economic. I have openly stated and documented that on the issue of a Section 137 tribunal there are underground whispers that certain judges of East Indian decent are undermining the Chief Justice with the support of prominent East Indian attorneys. It does appear, on the face of it, that we want the Chief Justice out of office on the ground of race, since judges and prominent attorneys of African descent are silent on the issue and the outspoken judges and attorneys are East Indians.
The Prime Minister has added fuel to this racial polarisation on the issue. He is of the view that there is a sinister plot by some people to get rid of the Chief Justice because these people believe that the judiciary is available for their use and purposes.
I urge lawyers to be wary of the Prime Minister’s dog whistle of political tribalism and to note that there are very important, responsible and civic-minded persons of African descent who are of the view that a Section 137 tribunal should be triggered in order to exonerate or condemn the Chief Justice vis a vis the allegations of misconduct made against him.
To name a few of these people: Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, retired UWI lecturer Dr Winford James, Reginald Dumas, Winston Farrel, Keith Subero, former CJ Clinton Bernard and Mariano Browne.
Mariano Browne is a senior member of the PNM and a former cabinet minister. He is independent, fearless and believes country, and not self-interest, comes first.
My learned friends, before you take the vote on whether the LATT should or should not move to file a Judicial Review writ against the Prime Minister for not triggering a Section 137 tribunal, listen to what Mariano Browne stated yesterday.
“No one is above the law,’’ he wrote, and I continue to quote him, “T&T will have neither an independent, nor a strong judiciary if it is led by a person who considers himself above the law and is dependent on the Prime Minister for his survival. Indeed, the Prime Minister has dismissed the questions surrounding the Chief Justice and those calling for a tribunal as people with ‘agendas’. Senior legal professionals of indeterminate race and external legal luminaries have all called for an independent tribunal.
“Even the Prime Minister’s external legal counsel qualified his opinion/advice. What is the Prime Minister’s agenda?”
The point is that a crisis exists in the Judiciary, almost an open rebellion, compounding the inefficiencies in the justice system. Not only does the Chief Justice see himself as above the law, answerable to no one, but he used his address at the beginning of the law term to pummel one of the pillars of democracy; the right of a free press to raise embarrassing questions.
I strongly urge all lawyers to muster their inner strength to be guided and do what they know is right on the issue. If in your heart and conscience you know it is legally and morally right to vote yes for issuing the judicial review Judicial Review writ and you vote no, or if you know it is legally and morally wrong to vote no, and you vote yes, history will not absolve you.
Let your knowledge on the law and your spiritual and moral values guide you in casting your vote. After all, each one of us will have to live with our own conscience for the rest of our lives.
Please vote as you desire, and let us all continue to embrace and support one another as true brothers and sisters in this honourable profession.